On Turning Fifty

Old-AgeEarlier this year, some troll who, every couple of months for the past eight months or so, tries posting insulting messages to this blog—in essence, they’re what you would expect to hear on an elementary school playground, “You’re stupid and ugly”—threw what he thought was the ultimate insult at me: “You look like you’re fifty.” I had to laugh. He was only a few months off, though I didn’t know why he thought saying this was an insult. I’ve seen people who are fifty who look about a hundred. In that light, looking my age is a triumph. Then again, maybe he thought I was really in my twenties. This blog certainly reeks of the “trumpet poop with peanuts” (to quote Captain Beefheart) that one would expect from a know-it-all recently bestowed a bachelor’s degree, especially in non-subjects like music and theater, my two undergraduate majors.

Once I actually turned fifty, though, I found myself in a funk. I was surprised. I had approached forty with such aplomb that I was telling people I was forty when I was only in my mid-thirties. Forty? Why I still had at least fifteen years left in me! But hitting fifty felt like running into a wall. I’m still not sure why. I’m relatively healthy. True, I’m fat, but not late period Marlon Brando fat. I’m just fat enough to tell myself I can trim down without it being my personal version of finding someplace “over the rainbow” where I can finally belong  Other than that, I’m pretty good.

I suppose there’s that whole “mortality” thing. When I think of turning fifty from that perspective, I start thinking of all I haven’t done. Not just yet, but period. And it kind of freaks me out. What have I been doing all these years? Oh, yeah. That. Ugh. I am fully cognizant, though, that there is no truth to such thoughts. Not because, as some well-meaning friends have assured me, I have accomplished a lot, but because actually accomplishing something is a chimera. It’s a fantasy we tell ourselves as some kind of consolation. Sometimes it comforts us, but more often than not it’s actually torture.

Smug contentment courtesy of MAD MEN

Smug contentment courtesy of MAD MEN

In reality, regardless of how much we puff ourselves up as we look over the Xanadu that is our life’s achievements, life keeps going on. That’s just what it does. Good or bad, nothing lasts. We are always facing the naked lunch—the “frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork,” as William S. Burroughs told us—that is life. If that sounds dour to you, I would say that’s your problem. Really. It’s time to ask yourself: just what are you eating?

In the end, it is all nothing more than a matter of perspective. After all, even if being fifty is, as I joked with friends this past weekend, that moment you officially turn old because it’s the birthday when you receive your first AARP card, things can’t be that dire. It would mean that from here on out, everything goes downhill. And if life has taught me anything by now, it’s that going downhill is the best part.

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4 Responses to On Turning Fifty

  1. mommylap says:

    I love this essay. I’m pretty sure that going downhill is even better with the company you’ve got in your toboggan.

  2. chaszak says:

    Indeed, Laura.

  3. Thom Hickey says:

    Thanks Steve from another 50 something! Thom at the immortal jukebox. I’ll be returning.

  4. chaszak says:

    Thanks Thom. Nice to have a new fellow traveler! I just finished your piece on “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”–great description of a song on one of Dylan’s masterpieces. Thanks. If you like Randy Newman or The Replacements, I have a couple of entries on Crooked Eclipses that are a bit like your Tom Thumb one. You can find them with the search tool on my home page. In the meantime, I look forward to see what else you play on the immortal jukebox.

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